As purveyors and enjoyers of fine loose leaf teas, we, of course, like to encourage you all to share in the experience. It even works well with herbals and chais (spiced teas). Sure, you can dunk that teabag and there are lots of specially designed cups and tea accessories to help you deal with that soggy bag, but if you’re going to all that trouble, why not deal with the loose tea leaves instead? Does that teabag really save you time? And is that little bit of time gained a worthy exchange for the loss in flavor and value? You can usually infuse those loose leaf teas more than once, depending on the teas. (Note: We wish many thanks to some friends for the use of their photos here.)
The traditional British method is a teapot that you warm with some hot water, then add the tea (1 teaspoon per 8 ounces of water plus 1 teaspoon extra “for the pot”), then pour in the boiling water (the British still drink mostly black tea blends like PG Tips and Typhoo). The drawback: after you pour your cupfuls of tea, some stays in the pot past the steeping time (usually 5 to 6 minutes) along with that dust form tea and continues steeping and getting bitter. The British don’t seem to mind and just add more boiling water to the pot. An alternate approach to avoid this is to pour all the tea liquid into another teapot of equal size and then add more water to the first pot. While you drink the first round of tea, the second is steeping. You can also avoid those infusers (in various shapes) and let those tea leaves infuse fully. Try it with a nice black tea.
2 – The Chahai Method
Using a chahai is similar to #1 above but a bit more classy and good with steeping smaller amounts of fine teas. A chahai is a small pitcher used to hold the tea liquid from the gaiwan or teapot before you pour it into the cups. The goal, as in method #1, is to get the liquid away from the tea leaves so the steeping does not continue. It has the added advantage of assuring that each cup you pour from it is fairly equal in strength – when pouring straight from the steeping vessel you might first get a lighter tasting liquid and then a stronger taste (subtle but noticeable for many tea lovers out there).
3 – The Gaiwan Method
A gaiwan is a small lidded bowl, sometimes with a small saucer to sit on, for teas that can be infused multiple times. It can be a bit tricky to use at first. The part that takes most getting used to is how hot they can get. Some people have come up with ways around this, such as wearing gloves as shown in this slideshow. Good teas to use in a gaiwan are full leaf premium greens, whites, oolongs, and even pu-erhs.
4 – The Cup and Infuser Method
Infusing that single cup of tea that you need to get you through the afternoon can be done without a teabag. A great option here that assures steep after steep of tea from those fine loose leaf teas is an infuser that is close in size to your teacup or mug. You’ll need a little bowl or something to hold the infuser after each steeping.
You’ve probably developed some wonderful methods of your own, and one of the best aspects of tea is that there are no rules. Some methods are certainly better than others, but they are definitely not hard and fast. Steeping times and water temperatures are also mere guidelines where you can vary them to achieve the flavor profile that suits you best. Enjoy and experiment with your teas. And make notes of what works best for you!
Have fun finding which method(s) are good with the teas that you enjoy most. Or expand your horizons in the world of tea by trying new ones and new ways of preparing them.